Researchers from the University of Barcelona sequence DNA material of a Neanderthal found in Catalonia

Two archaeologists from the Universitat de Barcelona have determined 52 pairs of the genetic sequence of a jaw found in the Catalan coastal town of Sitges in 2005, popularly known as the “Jaw of Sitges”. The experts could genetically identify the fossil as a Neanderthal.

CNA / Salomé Stühler

January 20, 2012 08:46 PM

Barcelona (ACN).- Two researchers from the Prehistoric Studies and Research Seminar (SERP) at the University of Barcelona have succeeded in sequencing for the first time the mitochondrial DNA of a Neanderthal found in Catalonia. The experts could genetically identify the fossil as a Neanderthal thus corroborating the anthropological analysis carried out beforehand. These findings will contribute to future investigations concerning the evolution of the Pleistocene population. In Catalonia, the number of fossils belonging to a previous species than ours, Homo sapiens, is limited to three. These are the ‘jaw of Sitges’ (the SERP research project), the ‘jaw of Banyoles’ (near Girona) and the human tooth of the Mollet cave (in Greater Barcelona). Only the mitochondrial DNA of the Sitges jaw could be partly sequenced.

The results of this research have been published in the book series Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology, in a special monograph to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Neanderthal study. This anthropological work includes work from renowned experts such as J. L. Arsuaga, L. Dalén and A. Götherström (Universidad Complutense de Madrid), R. Quam (American Museum of Natural History) and E. Subirà (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona).

The analysed fragment of the DNA has genetic characteristics in common with other fossils of Neanderthals found in diverse places. The researchers think that these studies can be useful in the future for studying and classifying fossil remains, especially if those parts necessary for an anatomic analysis that would allow their classification and dating are not preserved. In addition, the sequencing of this DNA fragment from the ‘Cova del Gegant’ (the “Giant’s Cave” in English) in Sitges can contribute to further studies about the evolutionary processes of the Neanderthal populations, by means of the comparisons with other remnants from different geographic locations from which DNA has been successfully sequenced.

Archaeologists Montserrat Sanz and Joan Daura found the jaw of Sitges in 2005 in the Historical Archive at Sitges. The fossil, uncovered during excavations carried out by the priest Santiago Casanova in the 1950s, is 52,300 years old and represents the most modern Neanderthal discovered so far in Catalonia.